Respond to change

Our work to prevent and respond to family and sexual violence must not become stuck in a particular moment in time.

Victoria has changed a lot since the Royal Commission into Family Violence handed down its recommendations in 2016. We have been through major fires, floods and a global pandemic. Technology has changed quickly, and this has changed how we engage with each other. International and Australian movements have prompted society-wide conversations about gender inequality and violence against women, which have made more people aware of this violence.

Our work to prevent and respond to family and sexual violence must not become stuck in a particular moment in time.

We need to respond to the cultural, social and technological shifts that are taking place around us. Our work must be resilient so it can withstand future crises.

Respond to cultural, social and technological shifts that impact family and sexual violence

Technology is increasingly influencing how Victorians initiate and conduct intimate relationships. It can also support violence in those relationships.

For example, online dating platforms create opportunities for meeting new partners, but they also create risks of violence. In a survey about abuse on online dating apps, three in four participants reported experiencing sexual harassment, violence and aggression from people on those apps. The rates are much higher for LGBTIQ+ people [1].

There are popular influencers who use online platforms to promote harmful ideas about masculinity. Some of these influencers directly advocate violence against women.

Widespread consumption of free, anonymous, accessible pornography through mobile devices provides two key challenges in the context of family and sexual violence.

The first is that children and young people are being exposed to harmful sexual content that is not appropriate for their stage of development – 44 per cent of young people aged 9–16 years have encountered sexual images [2]. In the absence of other information, pornography can be the main way that young people learn about sex. It can shape their sexual attitudes and behaviours.

Second, while not all pornography depicts harmful or violent behaviour, mainstream online pornography includes high levels of violence, hostility and sexist content [2]. This content is highly gendered. One study found that 97 per cent of physical aggression was targeted at women, while men were the perpetrators in 76 per cent of scenes [3].

When men use this type of pornography, they are more likely to use violent sexual behaviours, such as choking a sexual partner without their consent [4]. This is also reflected in accounts of sexual violence by victim survivors. A significant proportion of victim survivors in one study said, unprompted, that pornography use contributed to the violence against them [5].

We need to build our understanding of these trends and explore opportunities to address them. We will work with other states and territories, and where appropriate, digital companies themselves, so that the use of online platforms does not increase the risk of family and sexual violence.

There are also opportunities to provide more comprehensive sexual education to children and young people. This will help them engage more safely and critically with sexual content when they are exposed to it.

Respond to new forms of family and sexual violence

Perpetrators increasingly use technology as part of their violence. This includes surveillance, coercion, recording sexual violence, abusive messages, online sexual harassment and using technology to perpetrate other forms of harm such as financial abuse or humiliation [6]. Our laws and frontline services have not always kept pace with these changes. This makes it difficult to police, prosecute and respond when perpetrators use technology in their abuse.

We need to find out more about how we can prevent people from being monitored or harmed by family members or intimate partners while using technology. This includes helping Victorians to protect themselves online. We also need to help our systems and institutions to identify and respond to perpetrators’ use of technology.

  • 99 per cent of family violence and sexual violence frontline workers have worked with clients who have experienced technology-facilitated violence [7].
  • From 2015 to 2022, there was a 245 per cent increase in family violence workers reporting that perpetrators used GPS tracking on victim survivors. There was a 183.2 per cent increase in the use of video cameras to monitor victim survivors [7].
  • One in 10 Australians has had someone share intimate or sexual photos or videos of them online without consent [8].

Embrace technology in how we prevent and respond to family violence

Changing technology creates new challenges, but it also gives us new ways to engage Victorians and influence attitudes and behaviours.

New communication platforms allow people to get information and support. We will continue to improve the way we use technology to communicate and provide information and resources.

We will also continue to use technology and online platforms to facilitate community conversations about family violence and violence against women. These conversations can help challenge harmful attitudes and encourage behaviour change.

Technology can transform the way we share information across systems and services. This means we can be more consistent in the way we work with both victim survivors and the people who use violence against them. It also means we can manage risk more effectively. We will focus on making better use of technology in the coming years.

Reduce and respond to the risk of family violence during times of crisis

Times of crisis and disaster can increase the risks of violence within a community. They can also disrupt support services [9].

We must prepare communities and key workers to respond to family violence during disasters. We must also provide targeted early intervention and prevention initiatives in high-risk communities to reduce the risk of violence increasing when disasters occur.

We also need to learn from previous crises so we can prepare for the future. This includes the way specialist family violence services rapidly adapted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

References

[1] Australian Institute of Criminology 2022, Sexual harassment, aggression and violence victimisation among mobile dating app and website users in Australia, AIC reports: research report 25.

[2] AIFS (Australian Institute of Family Studies) 2017, Online pornography: effects on children and young people, research snapshot, accessed 20 June 2023.

[3] Fritz N, Malic V, Paul B et al. 2020, ‘A descriptive analysis of the types, targets, and relative frequency of aggression in mainstream pornography’. Arch Sex Behav, vol. 49, pp. 3041–3053.

[4] Wright PJ, Herbenick D and Tokunaga RS 2023, ‘Pornography consumption and sexual choking: an evaluation of theoretical mechanisms’, Health Communication, vol. 38, no. 6, pp. 1099–1110.

[5] Tarzia L and Tyler M 2021, ‘Recognizing connections between intimate partner sexual violence and pornography’, Violence Against Women, vol. 27, no. 14, pp. 2687–2708.

[6] Harris B 2020, Technology, domestic and family violence perpetration, experiences and responses, Centre for Justice Briefing Paper, no. 4, Queensland University of Technology.

[7] Woodlock D, Bentley K, Schulze D, Mahoney N, Chung D and Pracilio A 2020, Second national survey of technology abuse and domestic violence in Australia. WESNET.

[8]Office of the eSafety Commissioner 2017, Image-based abuse: national survey summary report, Australian Government.

[9] AIFS (Australian Institute of Family Studies) 2010, Picking up the pieces, Family Matters no. 84, accessed 22 June 2023.

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